After receiving numerous community complaints about drivers failing to yield to school buses, the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting a school bus-related traffic enforcement in the next few weeks.
Pettis County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Cline, who is the School Resource Officer at Smith-Cotton High School, said until now the sheriff’s office was reactive rather than proactive when it comes to school bus traffic violations. School bus drivers can fill out a form and submit it to local law enforcement when they see another vehicle violate bus traffic laws. Cline said the sheriff’s office had been following up on those forms, but decided to take a more proactive approach.
“The sheriff has received concerns from citizens and I talked with Connie Miller with First Student (Transportation, which provides bus service for Sedalia School District 200) and she and her drivers have concerns so we decided it was time to be more proactive and try to address that,” Cline said. “We’ll give summonses but also educate folks and hopefully keep it from happening to begin with.”
Deputies will either be on board various First Student buses or travel behind them, watching for vehicles violating bus traffic laws. Cline and Miller selected Sedalia 200 bus routes that had the highest number of reported violations.
Cline said he believes most drivers realize they are legally required to stop when traveling behind a school bus that uses its stop sign, but that inattention is the most common cause of a violation.
“We’ve got a lot of distractions in vehicles these days with cell phones, texting or on the phone, a myriad of other distractions,” Cline said. “That’s a lot of what we see — folks on autopilot behind the wheel, not tuned in to what’s going on on the roadways around them, then they realize they were zoned out and just blew past a stop sign.”
According to Cline, drivers traveling behind a school bus must stop when the bus puts out its stop sign. Drivers traveling in the opposite direction of a school bus on a divided highway, such as South U.S. Highway 65, are not required to stop. However, drivers on city streets or two-lane roads are required to stop for a school bus, regardless of the direction of travel.
Deputies will be giving a court summons to violators, and Cline noted it is considered a moving violation so there can be a hefty fine attached, and possible points assessed on the violator’s driver’s license which can lead to higher insurance premiums.
Cline offered a recent example of a violation that was luckily only a “close call.” About a week ago, the Missouri State Highway Patrol responded to a school bus traffic violation on Sacajawea Road. Fortunately the bus driver recognized the oncoming vehicle was not going to stop, so they honked the horn to signal to the children it was not safe to cross.
“The driver trained the kids that getting a thumbs up means it’s safe to cross, a honk means stay close to the bus and don’t cross,” Cline said. “He honked the horn and the kids did what they were supposed to, and the vehicle came by at county road speeds. A very close call for sure.”
Cline said the biggest reminder he’d give to citizens is to use caution around school buses.
“When they see a bus they should anticipate the flashing red lights and the stop sign could be activated at any time so you want to be extra cautious around buses — it may be making stops and activating its warning system,” he said. “… I just want them to stop and think when they see that yellow bus, that’s some very precious cargo on those buses, it’s our kids and grandkids. We just want folks to be aware of buses and be safe.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.